If you’re a fan of Hercule Poirot & Co, you’ll have certainly recognized the title, in spite of the spin, and wondered at the connection between a classical Agatha Christie bedtime read and one of the techniques used today to get people to read your post: adding a number to the title.
You’ll also have guessed that the number-word game spin hints at what’s to follow, i.e. ten ways to improve your writing skills, and you’d be almost right except I didn’t count them.
Seriously, it’s incredible the number of blog posts published with numbers in the title, e.g. 17 facts worth knowing about your boss; 11 things you won’t get round to doing today; 5 surprising IoT innovations nobody will use; 3 reasons why Tesla is an amazing concept, etc. Whether they actually boost reads is debatable but then that’s why we’ve got statistics.
When I started writing my blog, around 2004, it was a means of expressing ideas or reacting to something, in an offhand way, as you would in a diary. I wasn’t worried about what a reader might think, in fact, one of the first things I did was to deactivate the comments function, and I had no idea what Big Data was all about. All that interested me was throwing metaphorical bottled messages into the void and I didn’t care where they landed or who read them. That soon changed.
Over time, my posts became structured and people started following me, but I was still a babe in the woods and nothing brought this home to me more than thinking I could publish a post on LinkedIn then walk away and forget it! I won’t say I got roasted but I did learn two important lessons from this first attempt, namely, articulation is important and never neglect the conclusion.
That said, it would have been super if that were all I needed to write a better post. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I needed to stop navel-gazing and see how other people were writing and here social media helped. I started reading posts in WordPress, LinkedIn and elsewhere and soon I recognized two prevalent forms of writing, the recreational and the professional, the “Dear Diary” and the “How to”. I realized that both served a purpose but both were distinct and should never overlap.
Here’s why. Back at school, I’d learnt that sentences should only be as long as it took to read them without stopping to take a breath. That’s a good rule of thumb, except that it still gives you enough room for eloquently conjugated phrases (complete with hidden verbs, passive voice and end-of-sentence prepositions) sometimes used to enhance a scenario. To a degree that’s fine, if you’re writing in story, but totally out-of-place in a professional publication requiring factual, almost “listicle” formulations in order to deliver a clear statement.
The clash that didn’t happen
I’d always thought the English Language, the UK version that is, unique so when I went to work with a major US computer hardware manufacturer back in the late 1990’s it was a culture clash waiting to happen. But the clash didn’t happen, probably because, since leaving school, I’d learnt a second and a third language, each with its own set of grammatical rules, which actually helped me integrate my newfound vocation, “Marketing Communications”, in an international environment. Here you learn the full potential of Translation and Localization, as a way of strengthening global communications, plus you’ll see what it can do for your own communication skills.
By the way, you also learn what “Brief and to the point” means and that if you have anything important to say make sure it’s above the fold, and if you can get it into the first two lines or even the subject field [E.O.M.], so much the better. This was a great learning phase but I still had a long way to go before I could transform what I’d learnt into usable material and consider myself a proficient blogger-cum-writer!
The Seven Steps to Awakening
The next and perhaps most important step on the road to enlightenment came when someone suggested collating a series of blog posts into a book and auto-publishing it, which I did. To begin with, I didn’t appreciate how big a task this was and then I spent the next three years editing, fixing numerous grammatical errors, removing adverbs and generally polishing the book’s style. Why was all this necessary? Why go to all that trouble? Who’d actually notice? Well, apart from pride in a job well done, there’s the credibility factor. If you say you’re a communications professional then you have to show it, you never know who’ll read your work.
For having been a reviewer myself here’s a last tip. If a reader tells you your grammar is poor, get over it. Go back and look for all those devious tenses, forms, persons and conjugation patterns, which seemed OK at the time of writing. Check, correct and get familiar with the finer traits of grammar and show the reader that a) you took note and b) you know your subject. There are a lot of tools and apps around that can help you, without altering the content, that’s where your skills as a storyteller or chronicler will shine. But take note, apps such as MS Word are like a car’s GPS. They’ll offer options but you still have to decide for yourself. If you don’t want someone commenting on your grammar instead of the content, double-check, correct, polish and be receptive but remember, to paraphrase John Lydgate, you can please some of the readers all of the time, you can please all of the readers some of the time, but you can’t please all of the readers all of the time.